ELIZABETH, N.J. — Life on the run for the Internet sensation known as Kai the hatchet-wielding hitchhiker ended when he asked for a cup of coffee.
An employee at a Starbucks in Philadelphia was credited Friday with recognizing 24-year-old Caleb "Kai" McGillvary, whose fledgling celebrity took a turn toward notoriety when authorities announced this week that he was wanted in the beating death of a New Jersey lawyer nearly three times his age.
The unlikely pair met amid the neon lights of Times Square over the weekend and headed back to the squat brick home of 73-year-old Joseph Galfy Jr. on a quiet cul-de-sac, authorities say. On Monday, Galfy was found beaten to death in his bedroom, wearing only his socks and underwear. McGillvary was arrested Thursday in Philadelphia and charged with his murder.
McGillvary gained a measure of fame in February after intervening in an attack on a California utility worker. In an interview viewed millions of times online, he described using a hatchet he was carrying to repeatedly hit a man who had struck a worker with his car, fending off a further attack, and thus became known as "Kai the hatchet-wielding hitchhiker."
On Thursday, McGillvary went into the Starbucks, and the employee who waited on him recognized him and called 911. McGillvary took off before police arrived, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said, and without his coffee. But an officer went to a nearby bus terminal and found McGillvary, who was arrested there.
McGillvary was being held on $3 million bail and awaited extradition Friday on charges in Galfy's killing. It's not clear whether McGillvary has a lawyer. The public defender's office in Philadelphia had no record of him.
McGillvary will be sent back to New Jersey in the coming days, said Union County Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow.
"Everyone is a little safer with this person off the streets," Romankow said.
Statements posted on McGillvary's Facebook page following the homicide were "sexual in nature," Romankow said.
McGillvary's last post, dated Tuesday, asks "what would you do?" if you awoke in a stranger's house and found you'd been drugged and sexually assaulted. One commenter suggests hitting him with a hatchet — and McGillvary's final comment on the post says, "I like your idea."
It was a hatchet that helped give McGillvary a brief taste of fame in February when he gave a rambling, profanity-laced interview to a Fresno, Calif., television station about thwarting an unprovoked attack on a Pacific Gas & Electric employee. The interview went viral, with one version viewed more than 3.9 million times on YouTube. McGillvary later traveled to Los Angeles to appear on ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!"
Romankow declined to say what object was used in Galfy's beating.
Romankow said McGillvary, who said in his TV appearance he prefers to be called "home-free" instead of homeless, traded on his newfound prominence to meet fans across the country.
Authorities know he was in Times Square based on witness accounts, the prosecutor said.
"He was well-known," Romankow said.
On Tuesday, McGillvary boarded a train in New Jersey bound for Philadelphia, Romankow said.
Noting that his photo had been all over, Ramsey said it apparently wasn't difficult to recognize McGillvary.
"Being on YouTube too much," Ramsey said, "is not always a good thing."